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State shuts down deceptive firefighter charity

Robert Snell, and Mark Hicks

Lansing — The state reached a deal Thursday to shut down a Wyandotte charity that misled donors who gave money for firefighters and fire victims.

Firefighters Support Services will cease operations within 60 days and its directors will repay $144,000 under a settlement reached with Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office.

The directors also agreed to never again serve as directors or officers of a charitable entity.

Most of the settlement money will benefit the Southeast Michigan Chapter of the American Red Cross and $36,000 will cover the cost of the state’s investigation.

“Michigan residents are very generous, but the unfortunate reality is that we all must be cautious of those that would exploit that generosity,” Schuette said in a statement. “The directors and officers of charities have a responsibility to the public to ensure that their organization’s solicitations are truthful. Today’s settlement protects the public by ensuring that the operators of this charity cannot deceive residents any longer.”

According to state records, the group was established in 2006 and its three directors were Matthew and Susan Cahillane of Taylor and Thomas Cahillane of Troy.

Its most recent annual report lists Matthew Cahillane as treasurer, President John Carre and Secretary Tim Krzyske.

They could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

Reached late Thursday, Thomas Cahillane said he had not been involved with the group since about 2008 and had no comment on the practices alleged in the settlement.

“They’re a wonderful organization,” he said. “I’m sorry to see that they’ve decided to dissolve.”

In May, Schuette announced his office had filed a notice of intended action as well as a cease and desist order against Firefighters Support Services and its professional fundraiser, Southfield-based Associated Community Services.

In the filing, Schuette alleged the group’s solicitations “deceived call recipients by informing them that Firefighters Support Services helps firefighters get better equipment and helps ‘families that have been burned out of their homes by providing them with food, shelter, and clothing’ or ‘financial support,’” his office said.

The group raised $4.2 million from donors nationwide but more than 90 percent went toward the charity’s expenditures, including fundraising and administrative costs, salaries or programs not disclosed in charitable solicitations, Schuette said.

In a statement Thursday, Associated Community Services officials said: “After learning of the AG’s claims against FSS, we fully cooperated with the investigation and they are no longer a client. Our company operates at all times with the utmost adherence to strict compliance and governmental regulations.”

Firefighters Support Services used a blanket donation program that exaggerated the scope of its charitable programs and effectiveness, Schuette said. The charity, however, obtained donated blankets bought by taxpayers that were intended to benefit homeless people, Schuette said. The group , in turn, included inflated values for the blankets on public financial statements.

During an investigation, the charity was unable to identify any grants of food, shelter or clothing to fire victims, Schuette said. In all, the charity gave victims less than $6,000 of the $4.2 million.